Addis Ababa: When air safety investigators release an interim report on the crash of an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 Max sometime before Tuesday, they are likely to place the blame on the jet’s automated flight control system as well as on the pilots and their training, but it’s unclear yet which side will bear the brunt.
Experts in the US are waiting to see if a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder is released, saying it will be used to train pilots across the globe on what to do when a software glitch causes an in-flight emergency. The transcript may not come until the final report, which is expected later this year. The crash on 10 March, 2019 that killed 157 people came almost five months after a similar Max owned by Lion
Air crashed off the coast of Indonesia, killing 189.
After the Ethiopia crash, aviation authorities across the globe grounded the Max until Boeing proves it has fixed the flight control software. The crash forced Chicago-based Boeing to post its first annual financial loss in more than two decades, and shined a floodlight on the US Federal Aviation Administration, which allows employees of aircraft makers to make key decisions in the process that permits planes to fly. Criticism has also been directed at Ethiopian Airlines’ pilots.
”It was pretty clear from the get-go they really didn’t understand what was happening to the airplane,’ said William Waldock, a safety science professor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. ‘When they tried to correct, they actually made it worse.” Last week, a US House committee said a ‘culture of concealment’ at Boeing and poor federal oversight contributed to both Max crashes.
At the root of the crashes is Boeing’s software called MCAS, an acronym for Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System. It automatically lowers the plane’s nose to prevent an aerodynamic stall. Initially, pilots worldwide weren’t told about the system, which Boeing said was needed because the Max had bigger, more powerful engines that were placed further forward on the wings than previous-generation 737s.
Still, Boeing’s big selling point for the plane was that it was essentially the same as older 737s and therefore little pilot training was needed to switch to the new aircraft. That’s likely to be where investigators find fault with Boeing. There’s little doubt that MCAS triggered the chain of events that caused both crashes, but Ethiopia’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau will have to determine if the pilots could have saved the airplane had they followed proper procedures, said Peter Goelz, a former US National Transportation Safety Board managing director who is now an aviation safety consultant.